Caleb Swanigan, former 5-star Michigan State recruit turned National Player of the Year finalist Boilermaker, will likely end his college career after two years. On the Popular Nobodies podcast this morning he made his decision:
The announcement comes at approximately the 24:40 mark. He will enter the draft, but not hire an agent, so there is still a small chance he returns.
The Pete Newell Award winner for best big man in the country went from off all draft boards at the beginning of the year to probable late-first round draft pick after a record setting sophomore campaign. His decision was seen as a formality by most college heads. He nearly left after his freshman year, waiting until the last few hours to announce his return for his second season.
He helped lead a Purdue team to a two game lead in the B10 regular season standings and a Sweet Sixteen appearance before losing to 1-seeded Kansas. He improved dramatically in all facets of his game this season, raising his points per game from 10.2 points per game to 18.5. He also grabbed 12.5 rebounds a game and led the nation in double-doubles.
There’s an entire website dedicated to the awe-inspiring numbers Biggie was able to collect this year: biggie4npoy.com
But not even the 28 double-doubles can properly tell the story of Caleb’s transformation. He didn’t just go from homeless and overweight to All-American. He did that while also being named an All-Academic All-American. He wasn’t just the first McDonald’s All-American of the decade to come to Purdue, he brought them back to March relevance after years of heart break and put the program in the national spotlight after two years of tourney-less darkness.
He didn’t just make Purdue basketball a winner again. He changed their entire trajectory. Purdue is no longer just a cute story. Purdue is a national contender. Coach Matt Painter will be able to point to the success Caleb had in West Lafayette, and the amazing growth that Caleb showed in just one off-season. He’ll be able to sell the program to recruits as a place where you can get the most out of yourself, academically and athletically.
Biggie altered his entire NBA stock by changing his body from his freshman year to his sophomore. He added a consistent jump shot. He showed better instinct on defense, adding quickness and cutting weight without losing strength. That’s the kind of player development that will sell recruits in the future.
The success, on and off the court, was compressed together in one few second stretch when things mattered most, in March. Up two, with just a few seconds remaining, the Boilers had a chance to ice an NCAA tournament win against Iowa State and punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. If they made two free throws, they would win, if not, the Boilers would open up the chance for a third straight heart break in March. The free throw was hard off the back of the iron.
Amazingly, Caleb Swanigan grabbed the rebounds despite starting at the other side of the paint. He willed his way to the ball. He willed his team to a victory.
And that’s what Purdue fans will remember. It wasn’t that Caleb was the most the talented Boilermaker of all time. It was that he was the most Boilermaker Boilermaker of all time. Despite the pedigree, the 5-star rating out of high school, no one worked harder to make themselves better each and every day. (I got to first-hand witness him shooting morning after morning at Purdue’s co-rec in the summer.)
For two years, Purdue got to benefit from that work ethic. Now, Caleb Swanigan will enter the NBA draft and finally get to cash in on it as well. He will finally get to say he made it.
He might be drafted in the first round. He might not go till the second round. It’s unclear what NBA execs make of him yet. But Boilers know.
Where ever he goes, he’ll succeed. And if he comes back (unlikely, but maybe) he will have Purdue as a top 5 team next season.
This is the heart breaking part of college sports. The players you learn to love, the ones you watch grow and represent the institution you love, leave.
But Caleb Swanigan has done what only a few college players have ever done. He’s changed an entire program for the better by doing the hard things the right way. By representing everything he’s about and his school.
Biggie spent two years at Purdue, but his impression on the program, just like his jersey, will hang in Mackey from here on out.